It’s morning and a storm is brewing, dark and unforgiving, but this isn’t what startles Shiro awake. Beneath the roar of the wind and spray of rain and ocean water, he feels something beckon to him like the passing of a specter. He lays in bed, the pale light of morning eekes through his window, and Shiro wars with himself. Should he do this? The logical part of him says no , but the lonely, quiet, and vulnerable pieces of his heart say yes , so he does. His movements are careful and he wastes no time sitting at the edge of his bed, doesn’t let himself think too hard as he reaches for his nicest henley, slipping it on alongside his old brown bomber and a pair of dark jeans before leaving his room.
As he steps out into his living room, he reaches for his house keys and tugs on the pair of boots beside his door. He spares the basement door a single, longing glance, before turning away and out into the morning storm. The air crisp with high winds that send his fringe whipping about. The cool rain already soaking through his jacket. Shiro doesn't seem to mind or notice, and instead, his eyes zero in on the lone rocky structure that sits along the beach.
Someone is there. To anyone else, this might have seemed a bit disconcerting, or at least peculiar...but all Shiro feels is the buzz of anticipation and nerves. The sense of something otherworldly echoes in the air, and it isn’t the way the stranger’s coat, long and plush, engulfs his slender figure, or the long curls of obsidian hair that frame his face, neck, and throat that tells Shiro his true nature. No, it’s the way wherein the shadow of dark lashes his piercing eyes churn a rich, indigo deeper than the depths of any ocean.
The gorgeous, bright-eyed figure stands atop the rocky crevice, hands clutching at the edges of his spotted, black coat. As the wind picks up and brushes aside inky strands of hair, it exposes a thin, pink scar. It mars the right side of his face, caressing the curve of his cheekbone, stopping below his eye.
Shiro feels paralyzed and rooted to the spot from the stranger’s striking eyes. His throat goes drier than the desert despite the storm and ocean surrounding them.
A selkie. It’s another selkie.
His hand twitches and Shiro’s unsure if he wants to step closer towards the beautiful stranger, or if he wants to turn and run back to his small cot and hide for eternity. The other selkie continues to watch him with an impassive face, eyes flickering across Shiro’s frame and taking him in. Taking in everything that was wrong with him. The stranger cocks his head, and Shiro knows deep in his heart what he sees—a sad, broken thing with too many flaws to count, and he feels himself wilt at the assessing stare.
Shiro has no luxurious coat wrapping his shoulders- it was hidden away inside a musty, wooden chest in his basement- and his hair went from its sleek, black to the color of blanched bones. Horrible scars decorate his body like crude badges of what he's gained and lost. The empty weight of his right arm was a scarred stump hidden beneath the outfitted sling of his bomber and was no doubt easy to pick out. He was a selkie stripped of all his majesty and potential as a mate (the sole reason they were here). They were both creatures searching for intimacy.
It had been the pull of their songs to one another, a melody carrying itself across vast oceans and distant seas, that had brought them together, but now that the stranger whom Shiro had been calling for was here— this stunning, whole being— he must be sorely disappointed in the poor choice of companionship. Who knows how far and wide he’s traveled only to find Shiro.
He wonders if the stranger feels cheated, insulted .
The thought makes him duck his head in shame, no longer able to meet that intense gaze as an apology begins to bubble up Shiro’s throat. I’m sorry , he means to say, but the stranger speaks before he can. His voice deep, edged with a pleasant rasp that makes Shiro feel like he swallowed warm honey.
“ You’re beautiful…. ”
The words press into Shiro like waves, leaving him as weightless as the wispy seafoam on the shore.
It startles Shiro, then, his mind finally processing the words spoken to him, and his head is snapping up to stare with wide, river-stone eyes. He feels out of his depth and is unsure of how to respond to the unexpected compliment, having so far been convinced that the stranger was repulsed by him. But no, there’s a lovely, small smile that curls at the corner of the stranger’s lips as he descends from his perch. His movements are graceful and precise despite being a largely sea-dwelling creature.
Shiro finds his eyes raking over that sleek form, mouth going even drier at the flash of broad shoulders and an even broader chest. His eyes snap back up to the present when the stranger stands before him. He’s close enough that Shiro could easily press a large hand to his bare chest with barely a lift of his arm.
“I—” Shiro pauses to swallow carefully around the lump in his throat as the stranger stares at him before he quickly remembers the compliment he had been given, and scolds himself for his lack of manners and his eternal failure at romance and flirting with handsome men. “ Thank you ,” Shiro eventually manages to say.
The stranger blinks as if he too had forgotten his previous words, too distracted by what’s in front of him, and his eyes go soft, fond. He raises a hand, showcasing his intent and giving Shiro the chance to step away if need be, but when he doesn’t, the stranger carefully touches his jaw.
“What’s your name?” he asks, his thumb rubbing careful sweeps across Shiro’s cheek.
Somehow, Shiro manages to find his voice and keeps it steady enough to where he doesn’t outright butcher his name. “It’s Takashi, Takashi Shirogane. But just call me S-Shiro.” For now . Although, he doesn’t bring himself to say this aloud, not wanting to assume or hope for more. “And you? What’s your name?”
The stranger doesn’t bat an eye at Shiro’s nervousness. Instead, he treats him to an even bigger smile than before. He does pause for a moment, considering, before shyly rising onto the tips of his toes to peck at the scar across the bridge of Shiro’s nose.
“I’m Keith. Just Keith.”
Keith . Shiro nearly melts and wants to return Keith's boldness. He's made all the first moves so far, and the last thing Shiro wants is to give the impression that he's uninterested. Timidly, he wraps his arm around Keith's thin waist and watches in awe as he goes willingly, his smaller hands coming to rest on Shiro's shoulders. As their bodies slot together, a feeling of rightness settles into their bones, and neither can help themselves from staring. It’s only when thunder booms and a threatening flash of lightning breaks across the sky that the two pull apart. Red-faced, Shiro grasps at Keith’s hand and carefully leads them back to the safety of his home.
As they head inside, Shiro expects their interactions to be awkward, but as the door clicks shut the room fills with ease. He excuses himself to retrieve a change of clothes, offering to put Keith's coat to dry. Neither comment at how easily he hands over the coat. Shiro directs him over to the bathroom, while he steps into the laundry room, coat in hand.
Later as they lounge beside Shiro's stone hearth, Keith admits to him that, despite his initial boldness, Keith was nothing of the sort. He was shy, conservative with his affections towards others but had wanted to share them with Shiro. He'd seen the defeated look in his eye, the acceptance that he would be shot down and rejected, and Keith had hated it. He had been adamant in showing Shiro that his appearance didn't bother Keith at all. To further his point, he brought up the months he'd spent following the sweet and gentle cadence of Shiro's call. If he hadn't found him worthy, Keith would have never come.
Shiro is struck by the admission, unsure how to respond, but Keith seems okay with that. He tugs Shiro to him and presses their foreheads together, and Shiro lets himself be held.
It’s days later when Shiro admits to his terror of the ocean, his once home, and the visceral fear keeping him from even toeing the shore. He doesn’t tell Keith everything, but Keith doesn’t push for more, never pushes for more than what Shiro is ready or willing to give. Shiro does, however, tell him this: years ago he’d been young and not necessarily foolish , but perhaps stupidly, stupidly brave. He doesn't regret his actions (can't find it within himself to ever regret them) even if it changed and took things from him. After all, it led to his friendships with the Holt siblings and a Sea Witch named Allura, and maybe even meeting Keith.
They say sharks going after people— children —is rare, if unheard of, but a starving great white mistaking a surfboard for a seal? Unfortunately all too common. Shiro doesn't blame the shark, knows and understands the desperation of gnawing hunger like any other animal would. It couldn't have understood what was wrong with its actions, let alone realize that what it had bitten into wasn't a seal.
That night Shiro dreams of frenzied, red water and teeth. Too many teeth . He wakes to Keith cradling his jaw, his other hand carefully massaging his scalp. He sobs and Keith doesn’t stop him. He murmurs quiet reassurances of safety until Shiro cries himself back to sleep.
The ocean is deep and vast, beautiful and terrible, but it holds no candle to the dark and sinuous creature that cuts through its waves like a sharpened knife. It makes Shiro, who sits at a tentative distance away, long to join. Keith always leaves an open invitation to join him but never forces Shiro to come closer. Even when Shiro can see the yearning for it in his eyes.
When Shiro inquires about his pod and returning home Keith simply shrugs, careless but never dismissive.
“I’ll wait however long it takes,” he says, and the implication that Shiro would be journeying with him doesn’t go amiss, but the faith Keith holds for him is what leaves Shiro breathless. It makes him want to believe Keith.
Somehow that seems even more terrifying than the water.
Once, Shiro asks about Keith’s scars. They're in bed with nothing but linen sheets tangling their legs, and the earlier high of their coupling ebbing away when Shiro feels for the slightly raised skin along Keith's cheek and eyes the one on his shoulder. The question seems to catch Keith off-guard, and for the first time, he seems to truly hesitate. It makes Shiro wish he hadn’t asked and disrupted whatever atmosphere they had created before, but Keith eventually finds his words before Shiro can genuinely regret his question.
“I was young,” he starts, “and I was on my first hunt with my parents. We never saw the poachers.”
What should have been a quick dive amongst family between shoals of fish had been tarnished. The pod separated as harpoons sliced through the water, and Keith was alone and injured. It'd taken days before he'd been found-- exhausted, hungry, and injured. His father had been notably absent, and it was Keith's mother who had broken the news. He never returned.
Shiro kisses the scar on his face, trails more down his neck and to his shoulder. He apologizes for asking even at Keith’s insistence that it was okay , but Shiro barely listens as he praises his strength and bravery. Throughout the rest of the night, Keith clings to him, and Shiro promises to never let go.
Years before Shiro's coat had been charcoal gray, speckled all over with black flecks and a dollop of white at the chest. But that had been before the accident and before his pod abandoned him, Adam leaving along with them. Since then, the fur has faded to the soft, downy white he sees now. The only other evidence of the accident was the shortened right sleeve, seamlessly shut like as though it'd always looked this way.
Shiro presents it to Keith now, but rather than flinch away from the plainness of his coat, the younger selkie pets the soft fur with eyes filled with wonder and a fondness carrying something neither have been ready to name.
“ Beautiful ,” Keith hums, and Shiro’s heart does funny little things. He remembers Keith calling him beautiful the first time they met. He hadn’t been able to say anything back then, but right now he could .
“So are you,” he says, finding triumph in the red blush that spreads across Keith’s cheeks and watches in delight as he ducks his head shyly.
The sun is high, peaking beyond distant clouds. Summer would eventually come, but for now, spring still keeps its hold as late wildflowers and clumps of sparse grass dust the sandy dunes along the shoreline. The air billows across the coast, sunlight reflecting off of the ocean's surface.
Shiro pulls his coat tighter around himself (an effort to keep out the coastal breeze) and steps closer to where Keith stands. His dark coat and black hair nearly blend in with the smooth rock he’s leaning against, and as he hears Shiro approach, he turns to watch him. The ocean laps closer then, and Keith eyes him for any signs of distress, but Shiro smiles, reaches for his hand and squeezes.
I’m okay. I’ll always be okay with you beside me.
The touch makes Keith break into a grin, and the tension in his frame loosens as he leads Shiro away from the shore and into the shallows. His breath hitches, but Shiro wills the anxiety away as Keith guides them further out. The feeling pressing around him is so familiar it makes his heart pang, and he has to fight the urge to panic when Keith's hand slides away. The feeling subsides and Shiro nearly breaks into sobs as he shifts. It'd been so long. When he opens his eyes ( when had he closed them? ) he's floating in open water, but he isn't alone. Keith is there.
He's smaller than Shiro, but he makes up for it with speed as he darts around Shiro's bulkier form. For a moment, Shiro allows himself to stare before following after. He isn't as graceful, his movements too sluggish and clumsy after going so long without shifting between forms and needing to compensate for the lack of a flipper. Still, neither seem undeterred as Shiro gives a flick of his tail and chases after Keith in a game of tag. Together they move in a sort of back-and-forth dance that only ends with the need to breach for air. Exhaustion fills their limbs as they break the surface. Silently, they decide to take a break, both too lazy to continue their game.
As they reach the shore, they seek out a warm patch of sand and settle beside the other, Shiro flopping onto his side instantly. Keith snorts, snuggling closer and butting at his chin teasingly. Shiro huffs, playfully nipping at Keith who evades with ease and only succeeding in starting an impromptu grooming session between them. Both savor the affection.
Satisfaction from the days sits pleasantly in his chest, and already Shiro is eager to delve deeper and travel further until the shore becomes nothing but a distant mirage. Today had gone so well, but Shiro can't fight the thought that it won't always be this way. Some days diving into the water won't feel like a cage around his lungs, while others will feel haunted by past ghosts that setting foot on the beach would be impossible. It sobers Shiro enough to pull away, and concerned, Keith does as well.
They tug off their coats, and a moment, Shiro hesitates as he's stuck with an inkling of fear. His pod hadn't waited and neither had Adam. Would Keith? Would the homesickness be too much to bear? As much as he wants to deny the possibility, Shiro wouldn't blame Keith for leaving. His heart clenches, leaving him cold despite the body beside his own and the sun beating down their backs. He looks up to Keith and softly voices his thoughts. He doesn't interrupt, even when Shiro can see the need to protest. It's only once Shiro finishes that Keith reaches for him, cupping his face with a gentleness belying the steel in Keith's eyes.
“ Shiro ,” he says, like a million and one words, and Shiro can’t stop the way it devastates his heart. “I don’t care if it takes weeks, months, or years— the rest of our lives . I will never give up on you, no matter how long it takes. As many times as it takes. I love you .”
His voice is raw as he stares up at Shiro like he’s waiting to be pushed away or rejected. Like Shiro ever could. He wobbles out a laugh, ignoring Keith’s look of surprise as he presses their foreheads together.
“Keith. Keith, baby.”
He sounds like a lovesick idiot, but Shiro can’t bring himself to care. Even as he ghosts kisses all over his face, Keith’s name echoes between them. Eventually, Keith sighs out a laugh as he returns Shiro’s affections.
“I love you. I love you so much, baby. My baby, my mate ,” Shiro murmurs before finally capturing Keith’s lips.
They kiss long after the sun sets and the moon takes her place above, basking in the love between them. The air cools, fragrant with the scent of sea salt and wildflowers. The sand is soft beneath them as they whisper promises of forever and every lifetime after. Shiro can’t help but believe them.
The thought doesn’t terrify him.