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an ocean that connects to all

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Never in his life had he thought he would see the ocean. Before Altea, the most water he had seen had been a broad river and even then that seemed to be nothing compared to the expanse that stretched from shore to horizon. The air was different too, not a damp murky smell but the cold bite of sea salt in the open air. So very open.

It was liberating the first time he saw it. Like finally breathing fresh air.

Keith was not born in Altea, like how everyone else seemed to be. No, how he ended up in the quaint seaside town was through a winding path of home hopping as he was moved through various foster families like mid ocean currents carrying migrating pods and schools. Granted he did not come how with the usual way like how you would expect from that description and how that came to be can be credited to one person and his boyfriend.

Shiro, or Takashi Shirogane, but please call him Shiro. (He remembers his insistence to call him by his nickname when they first met. Keith being Keith at fifteen years of age did not listen to him. That changed obviously and he didn’t think that could happen for him. Him who everyone labelled as too much to handle.)

And Adam, his boyfriend, who took one look at him when Shiro was introducing them to each other and immediately offered him some coffee. (He would be forever thankful to him for introducing him to the bitter miracle in a cup.) Shiro would frequently look conflicted whenever he prepared the morning roast now after learning the process under his boyfriend’s instruction. A slightly pinched expression that he thought that Keith couldn’t see behind his back.

(He was not subtle at all.)

Together they were a force to be reckoned with, he had never seen anything like it. It still baffled him how they unanimously decided to pull him out of the system and took him with them to where they could settle with their jobs, to Altea.

The both of them worked as divers for the local marine life research centre, and you would think that sort of job had normal work hours but apparently not if the sporadic early risings and the times they end up returning were anything to go by. He wondered how these people manage to get sleep and how Shiro managed to remain chipper and enthusiastic throughout the day.

(“That’s just a part of his charm.” Adam told him, when he asked one time. He remembered how that he agreed.)

So when you owed two people the current life you lived, you can bet he’d be damed if he didn’t do at least something in return. Even if it was something insignificant as waking up before them to prepare coffee ready to go, even if the times were ridiculous like before the sun rises ridiculous. (He sometimes wondered what fish would be out at this time, but his knowledge of marine life was not expansive for him to infer.)

They told that him that he didn’t need to go that far for them like the stupidly kind people they are, but he was pretty sure he was not going far enough and he was nothing if not stubborn. It had become routine for Shiro to remind him to go back to sleep whenever they leave in those early mornings.

He usually complied. Usually. Sleep, catch another hour or two then wake up for school. 

The first time he entered school it was rough. With how separated Altea from other towns was there was only one educational facility in the area and the everyone-already-knows-each-other phenomenon was in full effect. He was no stranger to being the new kid but integrating into such a tight-knit community especially when he was here for sure this time around was hard going. Everyone had ogled at him like he was a visiting alien and acted different around him. So for a time it was he and them, but not he as a part of them. 

(It was fine, Shiro and Adam were new here too after all.

Now if only he could convince himself.)

Of all that was a part of his life at Altea the best was probably the time he spent with the water, because you did not live with Shiro and not hear of his passion for discovery and at the very least he wanted to see what had him so enthralled with the creatures in the sea. So he asked him if he could try scuba diving.

(Or the closet approximation anyway, technically what he was doing here was snorkelling, a recreational version with less expensive equipment and a lack of certified training as a requirement. Regardless, he wasn't deterred form the lack of an air tank.)

He was very terrible with words so he still wouldn’t be able to properly describe the first time he immersed himself into the local reefs. It was many little things that accumulated into something larger, something that was alive. Despite the fact that there was not much wildlife out in the open, as it was area people frequent and very close to the shore. He could still feel how the ocean was very much alive. The pressure around himself that felt like a cool embrace, the way that plant-life was constantly swaying to the pull of local currents, how everything was in motion. 

He felt like he could remain here for the rest of his life. He felt like a part of something. He felt connected.

So no, Keith was not born in Altea, but it was the closest thing that he ever had to a home.

He did not think much of Lance at first. The first time he met him face to face he had thought his eyes were very blue. Almost too blue to be found on land, he distinctly remembered thinking. However the meeting was fleeting as they only passed each other down the hallway in school. Since the guy was in the year below him they had no reason to interact much.

They had no reason. Absolutely not.

So he feels like a creep whenever he found himself staring at him, for some inexplicable reason. The frequency of witch seemed to be increasing the longer he was near him.

Why did he found himself drawn, staring at the poor guy he had no idea. (He sincerely hoped that guy never found out, he can’t explain himself and the social disaster that would follow sounded horrifying to deal with.)

It had gotten to the point that he now knew that Lance regularly hanged out with two of his friends, a guy with a large build who usually whore a headband and someone of ambiguous gender who always had a laptop with them. He also knew that he had a very large family but was especially close with his elder sister, who he was pretty sure worked at the research centre.

Unfortunately it had extended to outside of school as well, apparently Lance really liked to surf at the open watered shores and lived in one of those large seaside homes with the beach a short walk away.

(Shit, this was very creepy of him.)

His frustration with the matter must have been very obvious because Shiro had asked him what’s wrong one day. He really didn’t know how to describe it so he replied with an irritated “I don’t know.”

Shiro took that for what it was, they’ve known each other long enough for him to know that Keith was very blunt with words and what he said was what he often meant. It made him a terrible liar but it also meant it was obvious that the source of his frustrations was indeed because he did not know the unfathomable reason for why he found himself subjecting his underclassman to a one-sided stare down.

So instead he attempted to identify the problem for him, “Can try to tell me how you end coming home most days with that frown then?”

What? “I always frown.” He states with the aforementioned frown, downturns at the corners of his mouth.

Shiro answered with an amused smile. “Yeah but you have these different types of frowns and the ones I’m talking about are your I’m-fustrated-that-I-can’t-do-something frowns.”

It took him a beat to process the fact that Shiro had apparently classified and categorised his monotonous expressions into something that can be used to identify his moods. Damn his daily exposure to zealous scientists.

(He only met Matt Holt once, but even he could see his overt enthusiasm for his work.)

Nevertheless, he gathered his courage to tell him and hoped he didn’t get a lecture about stalker-like behaviour and respect of privacy. (By god did he value his privacy, he did not want to be a hypocrite.)

So he blurted out: “There’s this guy in the year below me.”

He wasn’t sure why Shiro’s eyebrows rose at that, but he continued on.

“And I don’t know why but I keep staring at him.” He finished. His guardian’s eyebrows were now partly hidden by his front hair floof (“Fringe!” he would say, if he ever heard him call it that, but it was definitely a floof).

The house was silent with this awkward quality. Why did Adam had to take an extra shift today?

He doesn’t know why but Shiro’s sudden smile had slightly freaked him out when he said an ominous, “I see.”

Despite his sudden apprehension he waited for Shiro to explain. For some reason, the explanation had required a careful delivery with how Shiro had considered his words. Some seconds later (though it felt longer than that) he began.

“So you know Adam and I share a very happy relationship?” What? Yeah, of course they’re happy together.

He could only reply with a confused. “Yeah?” His guardian had nodded at that.

“But it wasn’t always like that, we were at first very good friends who shared an interest in the ocean. It was over time that I began to feel something more for him.” He continued on, waiting for a response. Where was he going with this?

Keith was very confused now, how did this relate to his current problem? His confusion (or apparently his 'I’m-confused frown') must have been obvious on his face because Shiro opted to state what he was trying to get at (why didn’t bother to do that at the start?).

But them he had said it.

“Keith, I think you have a crush.” Wait what? What?

He must have said that out loud because Shiro had then clarified. “You’re attracted to this guy, and may have developed some feelings for him.”

Oh. Oh!

“But I don’t even find him attractive.” He had immediately rebutted, deadpanned. Appearance wise, yeah he could see how Lance could be considered handsome, but he never particularly cared about those things. His eyes that were way too blue though were particularly striking, but he wasn’t sure if that was attraction. 

He was pretty sure that this was not a crush. He barely knew the guy (information gleaned from situational mishaps aside) and all he ever felt when he managed to snap out of the trance was a gnawing guilt and a deep shame with himself.

Now Shiro was confused, briefly baffled by the utter blasé response. “You sure? Seems like you’re attracted to him.”

He contemplated for a moment, then affirmed. “Yeah, pretty sure.”

He was also pretty sure that Shiro did not completely believe him.

The weirdness came to a head when it was near the end of his final year and by that point he had accepted the fact that he was in some form attracted to Lance, but not romantically as he had to find himself often reminding Shiro every now and again. It came to a head when they met face-to-face for the second time.

He was in the middle an immersive diving session when he felt that draw again. That in of itself should’ve set alarm bells in his head, because Lance wasn’t even there what the hell. But no, just like how he couldn’t stop himself from keeping his eyes on him, he couldn’t ignore the call that seemed to echo from the tides.

Tides that push and pull. Insistent. 

Find it. They seemed to say into his waterlogged ears. Find it.

Who was he to deny it?

So he searched the reef, through little alcoves and in-between tendrils of seaweeds. Following calling and instinct. Looking for something of a shape he knew not by conscious mind but by something inherent inside him. 

Find it.

Not once did he come up to breath during his scavenge among the sea rocks. 

The search had lasted for both an eternity and a moment when he found it. A conch shell, bone white and stripped in pale blues, logged in the sand. (It didn’t occur to him how exotic the colour was from the usual browns.) He grabbed a hold of it, pulling it free and sending a cloud of sediment up into the water.

He leaves the reef, not bothering to change out of his wetsuit, with new words resounding in his head, blue shell in hand.

Give it. To who? To him.

Somehow that was enough, because he found himself face-to-face with Lance once again. His legs taking him there with no conscious thought put into it. 

Lance, with eyes too blue that did not belong to dry land.

He smiled when they met each other and gave a friendly wave in greeting. Whatever he was saying was lost on him, the words did not reach.

Give it to him.

Wordlessly he handed him the conch shell. He barely registered the look of surprise on his face when he shoved it into his hands and promptly turned around to head in the opposite direction without a single word uttered. He barely registered when he had returned to the reef to gather the discarded gear he left behind. He barely registered when he returned home and immediately headed for his room.

And when the compelling draw finally faded away enough for him to think clearly again he only had one resounding thought in his mind.

What the fuck.