Hidden 10 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by DuperOrdi
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Of Mer and Men (Sheith RP)

@DuperOrdi & @FalkiThomas



It’s the second time he’s been to the ocean. The city was the furthest from being silent, but it all paled out to white noise whenever he reached the sea. The water is and has always been different. He can feel it under his hands when he sits on the beach watching it. The waves are deceptive, quiet. Their white foam edges chase up the shore, grasping and hissing before they slip back, casualties of gravity, pulling all things in after them. He has the irrational fear that if he’s careless, if he lets them lap at his feet, they’ll pull him in, too. But whenever these thoughts get to him, he's left with only the thought of the way the sand would let out a soft sound whenever he sat. As if welcoming him.
After a month, he's getting the gist. Sometimes when he's sitting on the beach, there's a sense like the ocean is holding its breath for him. And sometimes when he walks up from the dock, he gets the cold, phantom drip of water down his spine that makes him feel like he's being watched.

But it's quiet. No one ever comes out this far.

The cliffs above the sea are white chalk and steep, but there's a trail from the shack he's living on his own in that he can pick his way up, lined in tall grass and little glassy flowers that cling to the rock with long tendril roots. He likes hiking. There's a studious care to it that means he can't think too deeply about anything but where to put his feet, and he's good at that. Or—he was.
He goes up to see the sunset. His dad talked about it once, the way the sun met its reflection in the waves and how if you were lucky and if the sky was clear and if you didn't blink, sometimes you could see the sun on the waves and then through them. Green fire, and the most beautiful thing he ever saw. He doubted anything else could ever top it. Nothing this universe could provide, at least.

By the top of the hill, he's more than out of breath, but it's old news. The sun is dipping toward the horizon when he starts; by the crest, it's low and bloody. He clears himself a spot in the rock and grass to watch and wait and breathe. He focuses on the sun and lets it burn against his eyes. The light starts to fade out on the horizon, a hemisphere of perfect light that glitters in the water. It sets without fanfare, a little, slow death. No green, but he didn't really expect it and the disappointment doesn't bite. It was worth it just to stretch his legs. And he did. Hours stole hours that stole hours and soon, Keith had gotten his fill and walked back to the shack, determination filling him.
He was going to pick up the supplies he'd need for fixing his dad's long forgotten boat from Kolivan, venture far into the sea. And maybe, just maybe, he won't go back to the shack. He'd find an island, live on it for the rest of his life. Surrounded by the tranquilizing sounds of the sea. It was everything he needed, perhaps more. Though, for the night, he decided to walk back to the beach, cares far away from him.
The beach stretches for miles. He walks as much of it as he can. The tidepools could probably keep him occupied for a full day. Most of his time is spent on the dock, reading. After Kolivan drops him off he grabs an apple and the wrinkle-covered and dog-eared tome he's been working his way through and heads out. It's a short walk: straight out the door and down the old wood stairs to the beach. There's peeling white paint on everything; it was a beautiful home once, though he was too young to remember it.
His hip smarts on the walk down, some other bruise making itself known. It distracts him until he’s almost to the dock, and then he glances up and his breath catches in his chest.

There’s something there, glittering against the wood. Keith can make it out as he gets closer: a line of sea glass, pebbles of blue and green and amber laid out in a row along the edge. He stops. It’s his dock. No one else uses it. No one else comes this far out. His mind scans through every possibility and comes up blank. Keith picks them up, rolls them between his fingers. They’re smooth in his hand, like little, frosted stones of perfect glass. They’re lined up one every few boards, all the way to the end of the dock. He starts gathering them, making his shirt into a makeshift basket. It’s only when he gets to the last one, perched on the final board of the dock that it occurs to him what he looks like: a child following a trail of candy, right to the spot where something can grab him.

But that was silly. There was nobody around. His mind was playing tricks on him.
Maybe he just needed sleep.
Hidden 10 mos ago Post by FalkiThomas
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Breathe. Just breathe and it will stop. Just breathe.
Gritting his teeth and gripping the new bite on his shoulder, Shiro counted to ten with each breath and drank in the cold air of the evening. It was never easy, coming down from an adrenaline high. New muscles ached with every breath and the bites and gashes spiked with fresh pain with every movement. But it was his process. The more he endured, the longer he could last and he needed to last longer every time. Zarkon's fighters were getting stronger each time and his 'experiments' - merfolk bred with pedigree sharks and whales - were as unnaturally strong as they were unnatural creatures. He recalled his first encounter and felt his tail fin twinge with the memory.

He cracked open his eyes and looked down at what was left of his tail fin. He dared not lift it for fear of finding more painful marks and bruises, but his crude re-shaped plastic replica flickered dully back at him under the waves. He leaned his head back and looked from his post towards the cove. He was far from the depths of the fighting arenas and too distant to run into any of Zarkon's school of minions here. This little cove was his safe-haven, where he came to rest and mend himself. He was hidden from the beach within a cave and he rarely saw anybody come down to the little beach itself. Here he felt safe and alone. Here, the rush of the sea was calming and peaceful, not nightmarish and dark like the ocean he was trapped in. Around him, all he could hear was the soft slapping of the waves along the rocks and birds squawking and shouting to one and other.

This time, however, the beach was not empty. His sight was not as clear as other merfolk. His sense of smell was the strongest and he caught the scent of metal and oil, like a newly sunken ship. He could detect faint traces of blood and saw a long blurred figure on the beach and then on the dock. He couldn't make out the figure's features or what they were doing, but he could see the figure stooping low, then straightening up again and he felt a sudden sense of panic.

Shiro had been stuck in the fighting arenas so long that he had been losing track of any sense of time. He couldn't recall when moons or suns rose and had lost himself in the depths and darkness. When he had first found this place, he had felt safe for the first time in what felt like months. He could finally keep track of the days that he spent alive and felt in control of himself once again. When it was time to go back and fight again, he hadn't wanted to let go of the place. It had been the fear that Zarkon would find out about his secret cove if he did stay too long that finally dragged him away. The first few times were another blur to him. He began dreaming of lying there on the beach, of enjoying the sun-soaked sand beneath his chest and he could feel it slipping away from him again as his mind took over. So he had begun tethering himself to reality. He had counted the suns when he visited and for each one, every time he visited he would lay a piece of sea glass on the wooden protrusion from the beach. That would prove to him that he hadn't only visited in his dreams, that it was real.

Now a land creature was taking that away from him. He leaned forward, clutching his shoulder and felt his blood boil - who was this creature to take from him? What right did he have to steal? Shiro grunted as he slipped down into the water and swam along the seabed, using the depth as cover. He wasn't sure what he would do, but from the stories that he had heard, landfolk couldn't breathe under water - perhaps that would persuade this creature to stay away from his sea glass. Shiro slipped beneath the wooden structure and carefully lifted his head above the water to look up through the gaps in the wood. Here, he could see the landman and could watch his movements more closely.
Hidden 10 mos ago Post by DuperOrdi
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Picking up the sea glass.. that was his summer. Brief pauses for cliff adventures and occasional trips into town or pity meals at the station aside, it's him on the dock, reading or watching the ocean or picking his way over tidepools. He needs time. That's what the doctors said, in so many words. There are worse ways to live with this unspeakable burden. Instead of feeling smooth waves against his chest--ones that rock softly against his heart--he feels rocks, shards of glass weighing him down and it slows his breathing, and his life. He's had this "illness" as it's called for years, and it took its toll over the simplest things that are supposed to make life beautiful. But the sea.. that was the one thing he could never tire of, or come to despise through sharp mood swings.

But, for the briefest moment of anger as he picked up the pebbles on the deck, Keith wondered what would happen if he tore off the necklace his mother had left him with before she was gone at sea, scale and all, and gave it back to the waves—but even as he wonders he knows he wouldn't. It’s the most foolish sentiment, but he can’t imagine he won’t live the rest of his days with it. And maybe it’s all right to want someone that much, to miss someone that much. He had his fair share of mourning and he came out of it relatively unscathed.

His mother is long gone now. No reason to remember that all over again.

He almost doesn’t pick up the last stone, but then he realizes he’s being ridiculous and grabs it before he jumps back from the water with reasonable speed, not at all scared. Not at all.
It’s the only one that’s white. It looks like a little shard of ice, frosted and glittering. He turns it back and forth in the dimly lit night, watching the soft reflected light play against his hand. It made him smile, the delicate color it gave off, and he'd already begun to imagine. Setting them on the windowsill in the kitchen, the one that faces the ocean and gets the most sun inside the small shack in the long afternoons. The stone casting a little rainbow over the floor at dawn as he falls asleep tracing it with his eyes.

But amidst the tranquility, reality began to set in, and Keith could feel his body blaring its alarms as a feeble attempt to alert him. He could sense a presence uncomfortably nearby, and his breath hitched. He'd almost wanted to put the stones back, take them out of his makeshift bucket, and run far away. His legs didn't move though, and neither did his head. He just froze, nerves beginning to settle in, even if there was no solid evidence that anything was around. It could have been all in his head, but he latched on to the many times when his gut feeling didn't turn out to be wrong, and he felt goosebumps on his cold arms.

He tried closing his eyes, desperately gripping onto his sense of hearing. Nothing but silence, and then almost imperceptibly, there’s a sound contrary to the waves, the splash of something slipping into water. Under the dock, he thinks and falls to his knees so fast they scrape against the rough wood of the dock. He braces himself on the edge and ducks his head under. The sense of being watched rushes back in full and hits like primal terror. What could be waiting for him down there?
Hidden 10 mos ago Post by FalkiThomas
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Watching through the slats, Shiro Laos eyes on the land man for the first time. He had seen them before, smiling and laughing from the plastic pieces they left floating in the ocean but he had never seen one close before. This one was quite erratic and Shiro couldn’t work out his pattern of movement. The only thing he noticed was that he stayed away from the water’s edge sharply, like he was nervous about it. It seemed that the rumours were true.

Shiro kept his head low and his tail poised to dart away quickly should he need to. The land man didn’t know that he was there and waves of uncertainty were beginning to wash over him. Unlike the creatures he fought in the arenas, this creature was completely different and had different patterns of motion due to his walking through the air not the water. Gravity held him down and affected his balance, whereas currents and up thrust affected sea creatures.

Shiro watched instead. He couldn’t see any of his sea glass on the wooden structure anymore and his heart sank, seeing one glittering in the man’s hand. He had taken them all. Shiro would need a new place to collect them, a new anchor to his safe haven. Somewhere away from this creature above him.

Suddenly, he wasn’t above him. Shiro started as the man fell to his lower body and the wood creaked above him. Before he had time to react, the man shifted and Shiro met the creature’s eyes fully. They were dark and full of such a range of emotions that Shiro felt his stomach squeeze. He opened his mouth to gasp before he darted away. His tail released like a spring and he shot through the water, back beyond his cave. He knew better than to lead the land man there. He swam out deep into the bay and stayed low against the sea bed. He swam until he couldn’t smell the oily metallic tang that permeated the water around the cove and he looked back behind him. Safe, but spotted. He couldn’t get those eyes out of his head.
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It was as if he was in a horror movie. He saw it underneath him; the top of a head, floating in the water. It stayed still for a few seconds, perhaps stunned to make eye contact too, and Keith initially thought it was a dead body for a moment, with terror singing through him, but it soon became obvious that it wasn't. There was fear, maybe some curiosity in those unforgettable eyes, and before he could further analyze this creature it moved slowly, and actually gasped? In the few seconds it was still underneath the wood, he could tell it looked like a man with oil-sheen eyes and pale skin. He had short slick-dark hair that looked like it was shorn off. The silver strands at the front stick across his face and then Keith realized with horror that what he just saw wasn't even human—not close.

The creature darted across the water, and turbulent waves formed at its motion. Keith had nothing else to do than to lean back against the hands resting on the wood in shock, watching as his tail moved like a spring behind him, a momentary shimmer in the moonlight of light black scales and silver lacing. The sight looked beautiful, but also terrible. Keith couldn't form thoughts past the fear freezing him to the dock. The man—the creature—had disappeared like he'd been a figment of his imagination. And he was /massive/. Bigger than any kind of fish he ever studied. He should be running by now—he should be gone. The primal part of him not mesmerized was screaming at him to get away from the water. Leave and never come back. But he still didn't make any movement to leave.

Instead, he approaches the water, knees scraping against the wood so hard they could burn. "I didn't mean to scare you!" he yells at the water, shocked at how desperately he's apologizing for something he didn't even mean to do, to a damn sea creature he wasn't even sure understood basic English language or not. Maybe it was his body's way of telling him he yearned for company, even if it was the most unusual kind. His shoulders slumped, though, when seconds became minutes, and the water stilled once more. He can see birds out in the surf in the distance, a tiny sailboat miles and miles out, but nothing else. But then he got an idea. Looking down at the shells he'd gathered in his shirt, he slowly placed them back one by one, overcoming his inexplainable fear of being too close to the water.

Maybe.. as a silent apology.
He'll find other shells for himself later. He'd obviously summoned this creature because he'd stolen something dear to him, and even if that would keep the creature at bay, perhaps that was best for him at the moment.
Slowly, he got back up on his feet, a sigh escaping his lips as he watched the sea and turned, about to walk up the stairs and back to his shack.
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It was several moons before Shiro could build up the courage to make his way back to the cove. He spent the suns circling the bay in wide, swooping patterns, flinching and cautious of everything that moved around him. He could sense the agitation in the fish that swam by him, as they left him alone and darted around him.

The sea had a magical sense of healing. Especially the warmer and shallower waters. The salt and water wrapped around his wounds like a serum and he wrapped young weeds around the gashes to keep smaller, more brave fish from nipping at them as they healed.

Shiro’s restlessness wasn’t helping them and his jolts and nervous nature was making them heal jaggedly, not neatly like others had done. He just couldn’t bring himself to lie still. He had searched for another section of the bay to rest in but everywhere smelled like land men. Nothing compared to the smell of the one he had encountered but it was everywhere.

All of his instincts flared up and screamed at him when he thought of the land man. His sense of flight heightened dramatically and he knew that he should have left the bay. But it was his space and had been for so long that he just couldn’t bring himself to give it up. That and his curiosity was preventing him from leaving. The land man had been so strange, yet so familiar. Like Shiro, his skin had been pale and soft, not dark and hard like Zarkon’s minions. His skin reminded Shiro of his people, his home. His eyes had burned themselves into the back of his head. He hadn’t seen eyes so dark, yet so full of hurt and emotion in a long time. Something was holding onto the land man and causing him a deep-rooted pain that Shiro couldn’t decipher from his memories anymore. It made him want to go back, like seeing a wounded animal and passing it by.

As the suns rose he found himself returning closer to the bay and if he slipped above the water now he could see the wooden structure settled above the beach, where the land man retreated to like a crab returning home.

Three suns and he finally made it back to the dock. He went under the cover of night, when not even the fish disturbed the water and he circled the protrusion of wooden slats. It was then that he saw the shells and glass, laid out neatly on the wood. He was unsure at first. Unsure what the meaning behind it was - was it a trap? His flight instinct flared for a moment before he calmed and recognised the gesture as one of good intentions. Merfolk left trinkets for one and other as a sign of friendship and sometimes courtship. He found it strange that this land man did the same but his curiosity built up again. He frowned, then searched for a trinket to return to him. In the end he chose a broken abelone shell. In the moonlight it looked silvery but in the sunlight it would shine with a rainbow of colour. He placed it on the edge of the wood before scarpering back to his cave again, watching and waiting.
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Hours stole days, and soon came the day where he was driven over to where Kolivan currently worked. The drive to the station was quiet and so very long, only because the road twisted and winded uphill in the slowest fashion. Everything took time in this place, Kolivan's old truck groaned through most of the journey, eucalyptus trees flashing by the window. Kolivan's station was for training more than firefighting, but near as Keith can tell it just meant they would get to sit around and drink beer and tell bad stories, and fortunately he was old enough and willing enough for one of those things.

The station was not quite run-down, but it wasn't new, either. It looked like someone was trying to go for stylish wood-siding and rustic appeal but hit more in ballpark of a barn. It was nestled between the trees and Keith fortunately remembered to hide his mother's necklace under his shirt before he went in, to spare himself the worst of it. Kolivan caught him doing it out of the corner of his eye and frowned.
Everyone knew him—or at least acted like they did. It must have been some sort of borrowed affection, passed down from his Dad, but all was well. Keith didn't mind it. The inside of the station was friendlier than the shack he called home and newer too. They were several drinks into the night by the time they arrive, but they saved Keith a spot at the long table, right in the middle of the row.

Antok goes to hand him a beer as he sits down and then pulls it back as he reaches for it. "Wait, are you old enough to drink?"
With a roll of his eyes, Keith grabs it out of his hand. Antok laughed and Keith let the conversion sink into the back of his mind, drinking absently, only taking in half the conversation. It was actually good to be around people after his show of desperation that one night. He got used to it when he was younger and took it for granted.
But as always, there was a nagging uneasiness there. He didn’t know how to say the right thing or order his thoughts so they’ll make sense to other people. A hundred little mistakes piled up in his mind at night before bed and in every absent moment, a checklist of all the ways he’d messed up before and all the ways he might again. He'd even messed up the one chance to study something new, act like his mother did and latch onto it, stop at nothing to gain knowledge. But then again, that was what made her disappear.

Hours passed, and Keith got to listen to the same argument he'd heard three times before—the only thing worse than a fishing story is who lifted more in training and all that bullshit—while he put away another beer and three more pieces of cold pizza. By the end of the night, he ended up asleep on the old couch by the wall. It was almost midnight before Kolivan rousted him awake.
“You can sleep here, if you want,” he offered. Keith almost agreed due to exhaustion, but he realized there was a hint of a string tying him to the shack, looped around his second rib; he couldn't stay away. He almost nodded and went back to sleep, but it was only because he was feeling so warm and the alcohol was still in his blood. The sentiment was too personal and Kolivan won’t understand, but he wanted to talk to someone about it, tell them what he saw for a second that one night. They crest the ridge and Keith could see the moon over the bay through one window and the lights of the distant city hazing the sky through the other. “Do-” Keith swallowed, tried to think of a way to say what he wanted without having to say too much. “Have you ever seen something you couldn't explain? In the—” he gestures to the view through the windshield before the truck bend around another turn and the moon and water disappeared and then had to put his hand over his eyes, dizzy from the change.

Kolivan was quiet for so long, Keith thought he wasn't going to answer, and then he said less an answer and more a mutter, “Your Dad asked me that once.” Keith fell asleep waiting for him to continue. And soon enough, it didn't seem like Kolivan wanted to.

The shack felt unaccountably cold compared to the warmth of the station. There was a moment, caught in the silence of the room where he wanted to go to the dock and knew he shouldn't. It was late and he was being stupid, but something in him was thrumming and his inhibitions were shot through the roof. He walked down to the beach like he was walking through a dream. The sand was still warm under his feet--then again he never remembered the last time they felt cold--and the moon was bright, half-full, the sea almost still below it, caught between the tides. He almost collapsed because of that damn alcohol, before his eyes turned wide upon seeing something waiting for him on the wood.

And as he got closer, and closer, he recognized the shell. That tough, colorful exterior, even if it looked broken. Keith sat, maybe almost slipped too in his rush, on the wood, surprisingly so near to the water his legs were dangling, feet soaked in it. He turned it forward and backward, raising it up against the moonlight. Elegantly silver, though he could only imagine how it'd look by his window, a spectrum of color spreading itself on the shack walls. For a moment, though, he hesitated even holding it; he had no way of telling which was a gift and which was a valuable possession when it came to this creature he saw, but something screamed at him that this was the creature trying to form a friendship, not trying to lure him into yet another trap.
He smiled, unknowingly holding the shell--something that still managed to be beautiful despite its far than perfect state--close to his heart. He'd read up on abalones, and they possessed healing energies of protection and emotional balance. It simply resembled water, and as various cultures believed, it is the water that will tame the flames of one’s emotional strife. It almost made Keith wonder. Why this certain shell was picked, and if this man could sense the sickness latching onto him. Either way, he knew a gift deserved another, and his own curiosity ate at him. He'd felt the disappointment rising in him, though, when he realized he had nothing to offer. Or did he?

Slowly, his fingers trailed over the many shells decorating his neck, and he tried forcing himself into sacrificing one. Just one. And he eventually picked the juvenile, soft brown with a hint of pink conch shell. Hands moving to unwrap the necklace from around his neck, he slowly pulled the shell out through the sturdy thread and then set it softly down on the wood, the abalone held close to his heart still. It was flawlessly polished and smooth, in an excellent state despite the years, and would shine a rosy light in the sun. He knew there was no shortage of this kind of shell where the creature must have hailed, but at least there was meaning behind it, things he wished for the man. Good luck and good fortune. Infinity. A moment of peace, a painless life. It was so very sentimental, and he knew it was the alcohol. It must have been.
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The moon was high and bright when Shiro was startled awake by lights and a slam. He looked across to the shore, frowning at the sight of two bright lights twinkling by the house. They were brighter than the moon, brilliant like stars but this time Shiro did know better. The lights were man made and he had seen their kind before. The vessels that travelled on the water’s surface carrying the land folk had similar invasive lights that dazzled and danced along the surface as much as they did beneath it.

His heart began to race at the thought that perhaps the land man was going to find him using this vessel and he quickly began plotting his escape before the lights turned and faced the other direction and left the cove dark once again. Shiro let himself settle, safe in the understanding that he was alone now and he let his eyes drift, sleep pulling him in ebbs and waves like the ocean. That was until he saw the faintest movement. He narrowed his eyes to focus on it and leans forward again. It was the same land man, he was sure of it.

He watched the man find his trinket and saw the shell glint in the moonlight. The man slumped and Shiro couldn’t make out what else he was doing. Was he rejecting the trinket? Merfolk rejected such offers rarely. When they did it was a heartbreaking feat that left both parties at odds and in an awkward situation within the school. He wasn’t sure what it meant for a land man to reject a trinket.

Shiro hadn’t meant to leave the shell as an offer of courtship; that he had done only once and the memory of that final rejection still stung. He and Adam had been courting for so many moon cycles that they had lost count together. They had explored reefs and brought communities of merfolk together, relishing in each other’s accomplishments and finding new ways to admire one and other everywhere they went. Shiro had never wanted it to end. But for Adam, there had been limits. Shiro’s final mission before being taken by Zarkon for his fighting pits had signified the last of those limits.

It was tradition, that before long periods of separation between merfolk, friends, family and lovers, trinkets were exchanged as a promise of return and as a prayer for good health throughout the period of absence. Shiro had found the perfect trinket, so beautifully simple, yet unique. He had taken it to Adam and offered it to him one evening.

“I won’t accept this, Shiro. I want you to stay here - the trenches are dangerous for merfolk, you know this!” Adam had gripped Shiro’s wrists, every part of him begging Shiro to leave this mission.

“I have to go, the research is so important for our community, I can’t reject an opportunity like this!” Shiro had argued back, hurt that Adam would deny him such a valuable opportunity and failing to see how anything could go wrong. But of course it did.

Adam refused the trinket Shiro offered and wouldn’t see him the day they left. When Shiro returned, the community had been torn apart by a family of killer whales and Shiro never saw Adam again.

Perhaps it was the menories of the scarred community burned into the back of his mind or the guilt that tore apart his heart, but Shiro couldn’t let this land creature reject his trinket. The ill fortune that had fallen upon Adam because of Shiro couldn’t happen to the land man, not when he was so broken already.

Shiro slipped into the water and slowly made his way towards the dock. He hesitated when he got there, but he pushed his head through the surface and laid eyes on the creature before him.
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Once he laid down the conch shell next to him, his eyes now traveled to the sea, the way they were always meant to. Waiting, watching, though not as clearly as he would in the morning and without the influence, and he had a hunch that the man knew and would use that to guarantee his own safety. But part of him thought the creature would be there, without a doubt. Part of him was sure, like the creature was some thing summoned from the space between night and day, a creature he didn't know himself well enough to dream of seeing again.

But he was actually there. It took Keith some time to center his focus, narrowing purple eyes before he saw the familiar oil-sheen eyes and pale skin testing him, gauging his reactions. It was not a dream. Nothing inside the dark forest of his mind could conjure anything this beautiful or this terrible. His arm and hip ached from his sitting position and the feeling of his head's thumping was too visceral. The sting of salt in the air, the sickly sweet smell of the ocean, the back-and-forth flicker of light on the water and the creature’s eyes on him. No. Not a dream. Never a dream.

What are you, he wanted to ask, but the question died in his throat as soon as it sprung to life. It didn't matter. What if it wasn't real, though? It could very easily be a hallucination considering the circumstances at hand, something brought on by lack of air or by the beer he gulped down. He could be in the shack right now, dreaming this. Maybe the moment he caught in the silence of the house was just another slice of his imagination, and Keith was just about done with the somersaults his mind was performing and he rubbed his eyes awake. He wasn't scared, even if he was close to being frozen in place like prey. He wasn't scared. Not at all. His inhibitions were gone, and the words that stopped in his throat had found a way to set themselves free.

"Thank you," he began faintly, and his eyes were flickering back and forth over the man before him, pupils like pinpoints, lips parted. "I know this kind of shell; it's beautiful." He stared down at it in his arms, fondly looking down at it and cocking his head a bit before his eyes were up to meet the other's once more. "I have something for you too," he said after a few seconds of silence, slowly taking the conch shell in his palm while he protectively held the trinket he was gifted, and holding it out for the other. He was playing with fire at this point, or maybe just indulging in this dream--if it was one. At least he had control over his decisions now, more in tune with what he wanted.
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Shiro’s whole body was tense and poised to run. He laid eyes on the land man and a sort of shiver made its way through his body. In the moonlight, the man’s face was cold and pale and his hair jet black and soft. A breeze ghosted through the hair and lifted strands in ways that the currents could never lift hair of merfolk. His presence was light, yet tense and smeared with a darkness that wasn’t entirely his own. His body wasn’t strong like those he saw on the plastic littering the seabed. He held himself crookedly and he could sense the strain he was putting on the muscles he used. Something about this man was sick and it was painted on him.

Yet his eyes this time told a new story. His eyes were wild and bright with curiosity and wonder. The moonlight danced in the dark mix of blue and black and purple and Shiro found himself staring back with just as much wonder. A strange smell accompanied the man this time, masking the sickness and the darkness and somehow matching the gracelessness of his movements.

Shiro shrank back slightly when the man let out sounds. They were low and hummed with a buzz from the back of his throat. He sensed youth and a shy nature from them, but also sincerity. His gestures and facial features so closely resembled that of merfolk that Shiro found himself understanding that he was being thanked. He drifted closer as the man held Shiro’s trinket to his chest. A gesture that could only mean it had been accepted and he then noticed the conch shell sitting in front of him. A returned trinket? Perhaps this man knew more of mer-culture than he had initially thought. Shiro was close now, close enough to touch the wet wooden slats of the dock but he dared not. His instincts still told him not to get too close. This could still be a trap.

The man then picked up the conch shell and Shiro reeled back. He rose slightly and scrunched up his nose with distaste. He looked from the shell to the man and disregarded his previous thought that he could know of mer-tradition. Only lovers or families handed trinkets to one and other. He was certain that the man didn’t intend to court him. Regardless, Shiro was intrigued by the man’s offer of friendship and he slowly extended a hand from the water. He could feel it trembling as he did so, feeling vulnerable to attack, but he focused and carefully touched his hand to the man’s arm and gently guided it down to the dock. Shiro noticed that the skin felt softer than a seal and not at all slimy like the scales of a fish. His own skin was wet and rough, the skin of a shark. “Leave it here. I will take it when I leave.” He said, his voice low and gentle, his language a mix of whispers, long notes and soft clicks at the back of his throat. They sounded different above the water as the air carried them differently and completely ethereal to human ears. He locked eyes with the man again, hoping he would understand.
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Heart thumping in his chest, he watched the creature drift closer warily, contemplating whether or not he should trust a human, before he reeled back and Keith felt his nerves go haywire, fearing that he did something wrong and that the creature would once again leave. Though, for one reason or another, the creature still remained floating before him, primal intrigue making its way into inhuman eyes. He almost thought he'd take his leave, maybe just eat him and get this over with, but it was obvious he understood the difference between them. The distaste was the one expression Keith would never forget, though, and if he looked back on it--experienced in the way merfolk dealt with each other--he'd probably laugh, but for now, he learned his lesson. No direct exchanges between them, just leaving trinkets for each other.

Still, the other creature was relatively close, and he looked like a vision in the water, like a mirage in the desert. For a moment Keith flashed back to books his eyes skimmed over in libraries, the mermaid drawn and colored to entice, leading the sailor down into the sea-to his death. That’s what he understood about merfolk and that's probably what the man would have done, if he were some long-haired, winsome, delicate thing and less obviously the most lethal presence in a hundred mile radius. He could see his tail flicking underneath him, though still poised for a quick runaway. Keith realized he got distracted taking his huge figure in when he felt something wet and rough gently coax his arm down, and his breath hitched, eyes immediately interlocking again with this merman, then they fell down to his hand.

The motion was sudden, but the way this man moved was so fluid, Keith didn't flinch back, and he couldn't stop a little shudder and intake of breath. It felt like the skin of a shark, and the boy only gently caressed the skin with his thumb, trying to settle the other's nerves and ignoring his own haywire ones. It was years since his father took him to an animal museum, but feeling shark skin wasn't an easy thing to forget. That, and the whale sounds. It was strange, really, how one so close to being one with the sea still felt so fearful of it. It called to him, and he always heard the calls, but he never took things further than a short dip. He never tried to swim in the deep, and he never had someone to goad him into doing that. So, all was forgotten.

And since anything and everything was possible, the creature spoke. He guessed that was what it was; the clicks and the whispers, the elongated notes. The voice was guttural. His breath made a soft whoosh as he spoke too, like the wind around the edges of the shack’s warped screen door on a windy night, and Keith realized the barely visible raised marks below his ears were gills and he was able to breathe through them. So this creature did belong to merfolk, and surprisingly, Keith did understand him. It wasn't so clear of a voice, and it sounded like it was from another world. This was a dream. His imagination ran free, and conjured up all of this. He was still in bed, deep in sleep, drunk as hell, but he still indulged like he was still a teenager that didn't know what was best for himself.

"Alright.. sorry," he murmured, an apologetic tone underlying his words, realizing he might have overstepped a boundary as he let the creature's hand coax him to place the shell back on the wood, the scraping of the tough surface of the shell clear in his ears once he put it back on the slats. His hand brushed against the rough skin once more on its way up, and Keith felt his senses on high alert as he rested his hands against his own thighs, not wanting to touch so much, even if he ached for it. The voice had already been low and gentle, too gentle for Keith's own good, and he'd only hoped his own voice sounded the same for the other man.
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Shiro let the man leave the shell behind before he carefully picked it up and drew it close to him, accepting the gift calmly and formally, by holding it below his heart and nodding to the man. He felt a spark in the pit of his stomach and was unsure whether it was excitement or something more. He hadn’t met anyone calm and intentionally harmless for months and the last trinket he had received had been from Adam. He gripped the shell and let the ridges sink into his hand, imprinting their patterns along his palm slowly.

The rest of his arm tingled slightly from where it had touched the land man and where he had brushed against him. He had never touched anything living above water, let alone something living and dry and the friction that accompanied the movement was tantalising. He felt a strong urge to hold him again, to reach out and touch the smooth skin and soft hairs covering it, but he knew that customs and traditions would frown upon him. Instead he watched and listened.

Shiro had no real way of knowing what the man was saying but he did his best to listen. The man’s manner of speaking was so different to that of the merfolk and they used such different movements to communicate. He found himself relying on the pattern of emotion; the only thing he could recognise.

His voice was gentle and calming. Against his better judgement, Shiro was drawn to him, drawn to his dark eyes and the hair that curled at the ends around his cheeks and his neck. Shiro swam closer again and touched the dock. He lifted himself more, his shoulders and gills completely exposed and the old wounds stinging lightly in the breeze as the salt was exposed to them. He couldn’t push himself any higher without his tail fin or the strength from his shoulder, but he felt close enough to the man now.

He had so many questions, so many curious thoughts, but communicating them felt impossible so instead he drew attention to the fact that he had no idea what to name this man. He placed a hand on his chest and slowly, carefully willed his name into the sounds he uttered. The distant relative of sirens, merfolk such as Shiro had a sort of telepathy in their language. It wasn’t something that came strongly naturally and instead it was something that had to be learned. Shiro brought back those lessons and murmured his name once again to the man, wondering how it would sound from the man’a mouth should he understand, “My name, it is Shiro. What may I call you?”
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Eyes now wide awake and fixated on the creature before him, he watched as the other reached out for the shell. The creature's fingers were unnaturally long; the skin looked rough, and his claws could probably tear off a man's throat with one swift movement. With that in mind, he memorized the creature's every movement. The primal part of him not mesmerized is screaming at him to get away from the water, but the sight of the other holding the shell to his heart and curtly nodding at him, as was tradition for merfolk apparently, was amazing and he could only nod back and smile at him softly, understanding that his gift was accepted. His heart fluttered in his chest, an emotion different from sadness sparking up. At peace, maybe. Excited.

If this was some fever dream, some byproduct of his own carelessness towards himself, at least it was a nice one. At least it was harmless, and at least there was some mutual understanding existing there. Keith noticed that behaviorism wasn't so different between them, and that once they understood one another, they would be as equal as any two different species can be. The boy held on to that little fact, the same stubborn way his mother and father held on to whatever got them hooked, even if it meant leaving, disappearing. Perhaps he was destined with that same fate, perhaps it's hereditary.

It was only when he felt those curious gazes at him and wanted to melt under this uncalled for attention, that the merman finally approached, readjusting his grip on the dock carefully. The spiked appendages bit deep enough into the wood to splinter it. The man could only watch as the creature pulled himself closer. There was something sinuous in the way the muscle rippled under his skin. Keith is within reaching distance now, frozen like prey, but he didn't want to move. It was out of the question. Instead, he turned so he could face him completely, focusing on nothing more than his face and his hand on his chest.

And that was when he heard the whispers again. Sounds accumulated from centuries ago, words unspoken and voice ethereal. Keith imagined himself sleeping to this voice, and he yearned to hear his name being said in such a spiritual way. His heart hammered in his chest, and he found he could easily understand what he was communicating to him. It made him feel strange and weirdly nostalgic, though, that voice. It was familiar, but he couldn't quite pinpoint where and when he'd last heard that same heavenly tone. But, a part of him took in the sounds and translated them smoothly into words, like it was nothing at all. It was highly suspicious, but also very convenient.

"Shiro.." he murmured, letting the name roll of his tongue, burning it into his mind. The name was enunciated with care, like speaking was a hard task right now, mostly because of how stunned he still felt being so close to this creature. It was such a sweet name for something that could kill Keith with a whim and a touch. “Call me Keith,” he replied faintly a few seconds of silence later, by habit more than anything else. His eyes trailed over the more exposed skin, and Shiro still looked huge compared to his own body, and strong.

Though with that came the bruises, the injuries all over his chest and stomach, and not too far from his gills laid the mark of an awful bite on his shoulder. Keith didn't touch. As a rule, he hadn't since his father died because a hug and a pat on the shoulder were still too close to home and no one was leaping to hand out better. He missed it in rare moments, but he never needed it. He hadn't, until this moment. But he stopped himself, kept his hand still in place. Not now.
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Shiro inhaled deeply, hearing his name in the man's native tongue. He hadn't imagined that it would sound so different, so short but full of long sounds. He played it back in his mind, playing with the idea of where to form the sounds in his own mouth before he was met with a new utterance to decipher. Unlike Shiro, this man relied only on his language to communicate and the words he spoke were as unfamiliar as the last. Shiro played the words back again and took notes from the way that the man spoke to understand that he had returned his name. Which of those sounds was his name?

He likened this language to that of Zarkon and his men. The sounds were harsh and sharp, using the mouth and tongue to form the different sounds and the throat and chest to put emphasis into those sounds. Shiro had begun to learn phrases and words that were shouted across the arenas at him and at the crowd and he had begun to try to speak it himself. It had been difficult. Merfolk spoke with their throats and the backs of their tongues. The sounds and clicks that they made were more reminiscent of dolphins, which was perhaps why the two species got along so well. But Shiro had persevered and got used to exploring how to use language.

Here, in front of this curious land man, he felt baffled and unusually shy. He moved his mouth, rehearsing the motions it would need before he started to give up, turning his head with a click and splashing the water with his hand in his embarrassment. He stared away from the man into the darkness of the night sky and listened again to what he remembered the man said. He felt a chill, recalling his own name being said and wished deeply to return this favour to the man. He wasn't sure about customs, but even for the sake of an acquaintanceship he wanted to know what to call the man.

Again, he practised forming the words before glancing back over his shoulder and slowly repeating the sounds. They were hushed and almost foreign, but he frowned and slowly repeated them, "Col..nee..Kee?" The words felt strange to say and he was sure he had missed some of the sounds. He stared hard into the dark eyes of the man and fell back onto his own language again, "Which part is your name?" he asked.
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Watching the merman struggle with trying to say his name was equally endearing as it was interesting. This creature obviously tried his hardest to learn to say his name, and even if it wasn't such a special name, the merman still did all he could to say it. It made Keith relax to a degree, seeing this deadly creature so interested in this acquaintanceship and in returning the favor of saying each other's name instead of killing him like he initially thought he would. It soon became obvious to the man, though, that Shiro was attempting to imitate the way a human would usually speak. From his tongue and mouth to form words and with his throat and chest to emphasize. He wondered where he'd learned to do that, and it continued to pique his interest as he looked at him expectantly.

When the merman finally spoke, though, Keith realized his mistake. He looked at him sheepishly, depending on his facial expressions as apology for complicating things for the creature. He touched the strong arm that was resting on the wooden dock lightly, meaning to grab the attention of those beautiful coal-colored eyes to his, before he gestured to his lips. His fingers slipped off Shiro's rough skin little after and he brought his hand back to his leg where it rested upon his lap, and he began to pronounce his name the way it should be said.

Slowly, stressing on the pronunciation of every letter to form the word. "K-EE-th," he said slowly, the clicking at the back of his throat for the 'K', the long 'e', and the way his tongue was up against his upper lip, forming the sound 'th' at the end. "Keith," he said his name again, quickly, and straight to the point, eyes never leaving the other's, a smile forming upon his lips. He hoped he was clear enough. The moonlight felt over-bright bouncing off the water and Shiro’s arm. Somehow this moment, of all moments, was the least real.

And Keith would give anything to know why this creature was still here, still bothering with him. There was no special thing Keith had to give that someone else couldn’t; there were many beautiful, kind-hearted humans still existing in this world. Specifically, on the beaches closer to the city as well as other sights to behold. One boy on a beach wasn't worth this time, this trust.
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Shiro watched the man with a curious interest and felt his chest swell at the kindness and bashfulness that the man was showing him. He clearly gave the impression that the mispronounciation was his fault and the way the man’s head dipped and his brows furrowed sheepishly was adorably entertaining as it was kind. Mistakes weren’t something that Shiro made without consequences and he avoided mistakes as much as he could by taking minimal risks. His interactions with this man was a considerable risk and his anxiety within the situation was incredibly high.

Yet somehow he was losing his grip on that anxiety. His grip on the wooden structure had loosened considerably and the ache in his back from holding it so straight and rigid was dying away as he relaxed and allowed the water to keep him floating there. In the back of his mind, Shiro was still ready to run, but in the front of his mind he was content watching and listening, learning and observing.

He watched, fascinated by the man as he spoke slowly and said his name. Shiro copies the mouth movements silently, then felt his skin prickle and glanced at the man’s hand. Again he enjoyed the feeling. Having been out of the water for so long his skin was dry now and the rough texture was like sandpaper. The man’s soft skin moving against it made soft scratching noises and it sent an oddly intimate shiver down his spine. He returned his gaze to Kieth’a quickly and once again he tried copying the movements, “K..ee..thss.”

The last sound felt strange and silly in his mouth. His tongue felt too big in his mouth and the sight of the serious, pale, beautiful face before him sticking out his tongue was so out of place it was hilarious. Combined with the odd sound that Shiro made, he couldn’t hold it in any longer. Like a much needed release of tension, Shiro laughed, brightly grinning and throwing his head back as he did. His laugh was soft and ripples through his whole body. Yet somehow, he didn’t feel ashamed of the silliness, instead he felt at ease.
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Once he was done performing the facial expressions needed to say his name properly, his face went back to looking the way it usually did, with the exception of a soft permanent smile on his lips. It was a refreshing change to the usual frown that decorated his face, and he realized he had one creature to thank for that. He watched the man imitate his movements intently, and even the sound of fingers scratching against rough, sandpaper-like skin was filling his mind. And when he least expected it, the creature began correctly, his 'K' and 'E' on point before the last sound had gone wrong.

He bit his lower lip to prevent himself from laughing, about to try again before his eyes fluttered in admiration, taken aback by the sight before him. The creature was laughing. A laugh that really resembled the laughter of a human, and the boy's heart began to hammer again in his chest. The grin showed deadly teeth, ones that could tear off a fish's head or chew the skin off a human's shoulder, yet now he was seeing them in circumstances that couldn't be more peaceful. Instead, he focused on how brightly they shone in the dark, and the way his eyes narrowed a bit when he laughed. It sounded so gentle, but he knew it came straight from the heart. Shit, he looked beautiful like this.

The part of Keith that wasn't mesmerized and completely distracted by the way Shiro looked right now was trying not to explode in fits of laughter too, but he couldn't resist. Two small, stray giggles escaped his lips, then he laughed louder, until it escalated to a loud chuckle. Of course, it wasn't a perfect Hollywood kind of laugh by any means. The man snorted, wheezed and instinctively covered his mouth with his arm, tears gathering at the sides of purple orbs as he too shot his head back. He imagined Shiro imitating him, to how silly he probably looked trying to teach him, and laughed harder until his throat burned and his heart felt lighter, purer, like a small chunk of the burden he constantly felt on his heart was removed.

"Okay," he said, remnants of laughter still in his voice before he cleared his throat, steadying his tone a bit more. "Let's try that again." He gestured once more to his lips. "Keith." The word was clear and was pronounced with care, though he didn't try so hard with the facial expressions this time, not wanting to look any sillier. He was already starting to get used to the guttural cadence of Shiro's voice. He was starting to like it. It was soothing, the same rhythm as the sound of water hitting the rocks currently around them.
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Keith's laughter was so quick to consume him and so raw that Shiro couldn't help but admire him. His laughter enveloped and shook his entire
body so much so that he struggled to breathe and he leaked from his eyes. So many strange and wonderful things were happening to the man that Shiro couldn't pull his eyes away. His own laughter had died down and he was left grinning and watching the other man.

Something dark surrounded this man, Shiro could sense it. It wasn't a darkness from within, rather it was a darkness that had been placed upon him and it hung like a millstone around his neck. Even now, as his voice caught and echoed in Shiro's head, Shiro could sense this darkness within him. He couldn't help but want to help lift it from his shoulders.

Shiro dropped his head, still grinning brightly and listened once again as Keith repeated his name. Shiro was still giddy with laughter and perhaps the excess oxygen around him was contributing to the lightheaded feeling of happiness he was experiencing. He wasn't ready to practise with complete seriousness, but wanted desperately to see the smile stay on this dark creature's face. It lit up his whole being as well as those purple eyes that bored into him with such intensity. Shiro repeated the word quickly, "Keese." He couldn't master the quick movement of his tongue to form the 'th' and he shook his head, content with what he had so far. He envisioned himself spending the rest of the night practising, probably until they met again, and hoped that the next time it would be perfect. He said it one last time, lowering his voice and narrowing his eyes as he listened to himself saying it, "Keys." He raised an eyebrow, looking to the man with a look that told Keith that he knew it was wrong, but asked for him to accept it as his final attempt for now. He was drawn to Keith and wanted to know him. He knew what his name sounded like, he wanted to know more.

He searched quickly for an idea to communicate more with him and flicked his head from side to side. He wanted to know more about this person, who he was, where he was from but their worlds were so different that he couldn't envisage something that he could use to share such information between them. He let out a soft click of frustration before an idea took hold. He slipped beneath the water and dove down to the sea bed. It was closer than he was used to here and as he dove, his spine curved into his tail seamlessly above the water before his tail broke the surface and the dark plastic fin he had attached to it with ropes, hooks and kelp sprayed water with a lack of Shiro's usual grace. He scooped up a handful of stones from the bed and brought them up to the surface, breaking the surface with an excitable splash but reaching up and taking hold of the dock without so much as a gasp. He dropped the stones at Keith's feet and smoothed his hair back over his head then looked up at Keith with determination in his eyes.

His gills worked silently, opening and closing as they regulated his breathing for him. Like that of a shark, the skin forming them was thick and pale, with thin membranes beneath them. These membranes were pale pink in colour and they shimmered with water as they worked. Shiro picked out a bright white stone and set it down, then shivered and held his arms. He then took a yellow-coloured stone and stopped shivering, instead sighing in pretend relief that it was warm again. He glanced up at Keith, hoping that he wasn't lost. He set both stones down and laid out 26 plain grey rocks in front of the cold white stone and 27 plain grey rocks in front of the warm yellow stone. He laid them out to show how many summers and winters he had seen. If it meant anything to Keith, he hoped that he would show it in his face, because Shiro wasn't sure how else he could do it. He didn't even know whether Keith's species acknowledged the passage of time enough to have counted the summers and the winters. Or if Keith would even understand what he was trying to communicate.
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He couldn't quite place a finger on it, but the way Shiro looked at him, it made him raise his eyebrows and duck under part way, smile still playing at the edges of his mouth. It was a little nervous tick of his. It made him look innocent and tempting and cute. Cute, as if anything as depressing as him could be. He wasn't able to figure out what he wanted out of it, this focused attention and admiration, but to get closer to this creature and be looked at like that, like he was the most intriguing specimen someone ever laid eyes on, it.. well, it was certainly a new kind of feeling, and Keith wanted more of it. Needed more of it. "Alright, Keys is fine for now," he grinned, laughing a bit and teasing Shiro before he straightened up, smile leaving his face and replaced by a neutral expression as he thought of something else they could do together. He would have made the same clicking sound of frustration if he could, because he didn't know where to begin.

So far, he knew the merman's name, and memorized all of his physical attributes, from the way Keith's nails would scratch against Shiro's rough skin and the way he looked when he laughed and felt at peace, to the warm eyes that always seemed to be staring at him. But he still needed so much more than that to think of his new friend, and he'd only just begun to consider asking to take care of his wounds when the mer dived down in a blink of an eye, a small splashing sound being heard when he slid under the surface of the water. Since it was nighttime, Keith couldn't see him properly. He made out slight movements under the water, and he pulled his leg only a little to the top, the same idiotic part of him still screaming at him that this was a trip, that it had to be a trap. All those kind looks and curious stares. He was quickly proved wrong however, when Shiro's tail came up and splashed clumsily, and Keith only slightly covered his face.

That was the closest he ever could get himself to go with water. Just silent admiration, like watching a crush from afar.

Keith caught sight of the makeshift fin though, covered in kelp and plastic. It wasn't a bad idea. No, really, it was actually very creative. This man was smart. Yet he couldn't help but pity him and want to lift off this pain, and he couldn't even begin to guess the reason behind all of those injuries. It sent a shiver down his spine. But, for now, he banished those thoughts and focused on the present. He didn't care to state the plain; he was going to take care of Shiro, there was no question nor discussion. He only slightly reeled back when the merman came up once more, rocks in his arms and dropping them on the wood, clinking and thumping against the surface. He raised an eyebrow, already beginning to wonder if this was another gift, before he stopped himself. He needed to learn to depend on the way Shiro tried to explain things, for once in his life cease jumping to conclusions on his own. Strange. It was almost akin to intimate trust.

He watched with intent as those gills worked their function. The amount of rocks was absolutely ridiculous. He leaned forward a bit closer and saw that they were different. In colors, shapes and sizes, and he immediately realized Shiro was trying to speak to him using a form of communication he thought would bring them together. Keith couldn't promise anything, but he made a silent oath to try his best, because all it did was bring a curious look and an intrigued smile on the creature's face. That beautiful, otherworldly face. "Uh.. snow?" he asked when Shiro brought up the cold white stone, tilting his head to the right, trying to understand. Soon, the warm, yellow rock came to replace it, and Keith narrowed his eyes a little more. "Sun? Oh!" He began to nod vigorously.

"Summer and winter. Hm, I understand." He nodded one last time with a faint smile before he began to count the rocks in his head quickly, his eyes darting over them and trying to make sense of it. "26 winters, 27 summers.. that's how old you are, right?" He asked, so sure about the answer that he didn't stare up at him for long, and instead enthusiastically began to subtract 6 rocks from winter and 6 rocks from summer, until he was left with 20 winters and 21 summers, and he grinned up at Shiro, already enjoying this method of communication as he leaned back again, eyes on his reaction.
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Shiro wasn’t expecting Keith to understand the rocks so quickly. He flicked his tail in excitement when Keith’s voice raised with excitement itself. He almost understood the words, his expression was so clear and enthusiastic. Shiro grinned as Keith arranged the rocks to his own summers and winters. He counted the rocks Keith took and made a face of disbelief.

He didn’t look like 20 cycles had passed, he looked older than that. Though it could have been the dark lines under his eyes or the slouching of his spine from the weight of the darkness around him. He didn’t look any less beautiful, but a new web of pity was spinning itself within Shiro for this new broken thing he had found.

Shiro raised an eyebrow at Keith and carefully added five rocks to each of Keith’s rows, then gestured to his own eyes and pointed at Keith, ‘I see you as 25 cycles.’ But of course, it didn’t matter to Shiro. He eyed the missing rock in the winter row and his stomach flipped slightly. A new cycle starting was always celebrated and exciting in mer culture. Friends and family celebrated with gifts and food and music all night long and the biggest ones even took place on islands or in caves with strange fruits and drinks found in old smugglers bunkers that were decaying with dust and rot. The drinks and the food lifted everyone and played with their balance and speech so much that some folk even lost their memories. The celebrations were something that Shiro used to always look forward to.

Being trapped in Zarkon’s deadly game for so long had robbed him of his last new cycle, however, and would probably steal any more that he could survive through. But Keith had one soon. The harvest moon was soon to be upon them, which meant that winter was on its way. Shiro pointed to the moon and rearranged the rocks. He placed 27 rocks back in front of the yellow stone and 26 in front of the white. He then laid out 5 new rocks in a row, then took that fifth rock and moved it to the winter rocks to make their total 27. Once again he looked to Keith to watch his expression.
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