They sit for hours after they untangle from each other. The bathtub is too narrow for both woman and broad fishman to occupy it longways, so Elisa rests atop him. Her head rests on his chest, and her wet hair bobs in time with the warm bathwater. She is naked, and every so often the tips of her breasts catch on his scales and her body is delivered a jolt. But, for the most part, it is innocent, his flanged arms around her and her arms resting on his chest.
Until he taps her, croaking.
Elisa looks up at him and props herself up on the rim of the bath. She looks at her creature and signs. Is something wrong? Concern flashes in her eyes for a moment, but it melts away when he tentatively and slowly signs No.
His marble eyes flit up and down between Elisa's face and his skin. A wet hand rises like a tentacle from the tub's abyss and a claw traces the blue lines that sketched his skin. They went up and down his body in wavy, layer-like patterns, like the tides that birthed him. He traces these, from his hard and thick shoulder-shell to the-see through membrane and bumpy scales of his hand, and then points to himself. Through his trademark style of signing, slow and deliberate, Elisa watches his thoughts form in his hands. All the while, smaller and imperceptible sounds ebb and flow from his deep lungs and throat, his gills fluttering.
Have . . . skin . . . lines.
He points to himself again. She reaches out and strokes them, running her fingers along the same alien textures that he had. Well, Elisa thought with an inward smirk, they weren't that alien anymore. The creature chirps at her touch.
Yes, they're very beautiful.
He does his version of a smile, returning her own bright one, but she realizes his thought wasn't complete.
Have . . . skin . . . lines. E-L-I-S-A . . .
The creature's massive fingers now twirl up Elisa's arm, like the dancing feet of a figure-skater. The claws are sharp, and prickle her slightly, but they do not hurt. Her creature is caring, and their many encounters wizened him to the strengths her body could endure. Once he has finished, he taps her lean, pale shoulder.
E-L-I-S-A, clean. E-L-I-S-A have . . . no . . . skin . . . lines.
Well, we're very different, love. There are a lot of things you can do that I can't.
She laughed at his purity. His eyes betray how much he means it. His pupils widen and dilate, and they reflect all the soul in his signs. The way he squawks loudly doesn't hurt either. Elisa imagines a voice in her head for him, deep and as infinitely saturated as his various sounds are. The voice is indignant, almost incredulous as it speaks what he signs. That gives her another giggle, and she leans forward, kissing him gently.
You are strong.
For a moment, his bioluminescence catches fire. It flashes like cords of electricity in his veins, and endures while he looks into her eyes soulfully. Elisa swears she could get lost in his.
The glow inside him dies and he signs again.
Watch . . . close. Watch . . . G-I-L-E-S. See with . . . bright water . . . on . . . thing . . .
The creature moves his hands up and down, palms facing each other, as if a ghostly slice of paper is between them.
Thing, as in paper, as in canvas.
You see Giles with paint?
Elisa realizes he may not know the sign for paint , only the word itself he's heard from Giles. Of course, that communication he couldn't replicate. She signs again.
Gold cauldrons study the sign for a few moments, analyzing it like a dissected fish. The pulsating octopi of his scaled fingers twist slowly. Every so often the creature's eyes flash back to her hands. The emulation is complete. Paint , his fingers state. Elisa swirls her hands around in the air, as if she were, herself, painting upon some invisible canvas. Maybe he would recognize the motion . . .
The creature chitters, smiling wide while his eyes expand in recognition.
E-L-I-S-A, paint! Paint, paint, paint!
He nodes excitedly, cooing quietly and happily to himself at his understanding. His hands leave him again, running lines over the milk-shaded skin of his lover. Tracing his limber, elegant, clawed feelers past Elisa's shoulders, he feels her biceps and arms, the swells of her breasts, the perfect naturalness of her face. Further, across the soft expanse of her belly, her sex, thighs, bottom, angleless calves and chafeless feet. Elisa blushes at the sensations and sentiments, but her confusion doesn't wane. Soon the creature's hands return from their pilgrimage. His excitement has died down, but the rivers of his contentment still flow beneath his scaled muscles.
See with . . . paint. G-I-L-E-S . . . make line.
He gestures to the blue flowing all over his body.
Watch . . . see how to . . . hold . . . stick.
Would you like to paint?
The creature leans up in the tub, and suddenly she is looking up at him. He no longer smiles. He is serious now, poised, like a viper. Elisa, however, doesn't sense hostility as the moist lampreys of his hands grip her shoulders gently. His eyes are severe, longing, although undeniably naive. The black of them, ringed with gold, positively bubbles with desire that Elisa will say yes to his unknown query. It comes from, she thinks, both lust and something more innocent and significant to him. When he is sure that he has her captivated, the creature signs.
Now Elisa understood. She was like a blank canvas. Her skin was so pale and monochromatic it must confound him to no end. She gazed down at herself for a moment, turning the idea over in her head. There wasn't something wrong with her, was there? A pang of hurt rang in her heart, but she shrugged it off and came back to herself. This was her creature, her beloved amphibian man from another world ; her scaly and wide-eyed partner, who loved her to the end of time and to the bottom of the sea. She could do no wrong in his eyes. Unintimidated in the face of her doubt, she snuggles back into him.
Then it hit her.
In all their time together, Elisa complimented the creature on his natural beauty constantly. When they share the tune of a Benny Goodman record in her tiny kitchen, she told him how the overhead lights made him shine like jewelry. When she cracked open an egg and watched him devour it in his not-quite-mechanical fashion, she made him aware of how his love for the taste sent his bioluminescence into freefall. And when Elisa's teeth dig into his shoulder, when she silently howls her oblivion into his collarbone and he spills inside her, she signs in splintered syllables how beautiful and how good he is and how much she loves him.
So in his unrefined but sharp intelligence, he must have interpreted her affections to mean his markings. She loves mine , she heard his imaginary voice say. Maybe I'll give her some !
Her delay worries him, and he signs to her with concern in his face.
Elisa motions for him to hold on, and he leaves it at that for the moment. Again, the thought creaks around and around in her head like a gear. Paint her? With what? She didn't own any paints herself. In her rare dabblings in art, she'd always had Giles to take advice and paint cans from. Would she purchase some herself? From where? And oh god what would he do once he had them -
A terrifying image flashed in Elisa's head. Her apartment was dripping, gushing with all different shades and colors, a million and one hues staining every surface of the cramped space, and in the midst of it all is her, drenched in reds and blues. It'd take her days of scrubbing to clean up something like that!
But another vision sways into her mind with bountiful hips. It is her, once again, but this version of Elisa is foreign to her. She is a moving and undulating rainbow, like him. Orange and purple and yellow and red tango across her stomach and down her back. She feels divine in this form, and with these new skins from him that she sees, the fire between her legs is stoked and tended into honeyed fury.
The second visual still blazes in her, almost filling her vision. She bites her lip at the thought, and the creature repeats his question, more frantically. She suspects he fears he signed incorrectly and offended her.
She grips his shoulders this time, and now it is her eyes that are severe. Now it is her eyes that bubble.
She is dry now, wiped off with a towel and standing, wearing only a robe, in the middle of the apartment. Elisa's creature, freshly soaked in his treated water to maximize his time in the air, sorts the various supplies she had brought for him from Giles' apartment across the hall. Before him, Elisa sees red, brown, white and black, teal and gold, and others. Like the rest of her, her throat is dry. Anticipatory, nervous, suspenseful. Every time one of those scaled hands glides over the row of colors, that vision that rocked her being returns, and she presses her thighs together to keep the thump thump thump of her arousal from making her shake.
After a few minutes, he stops and turns to her, squatted in observation. He signs, his eyes dark.
She looks back at those paints, those multicolored cylinders with so much promise in them. Elisa gulps.
A clinking sound comes from behind her, as the metal rim of the brush and the plastic of the palette clack together. She doesn't see what color he has on it, but she hears his timeless clicks as her robe falls to the floor.
A cold tickling brushes the small of her back. It is not water. She imagines the feeler of some impossibly old undersea parasite licking at her when the brush touches her. Elisa thinks her mind will wander as always . . .
Until the creature begins.
He is slow at first. Elisa had watched Giles plenty as he wove his tapestries of charcoal and lead upon paper. The old man is as swift with paint, like the snap of a photograph. One second, an onlooker beholds blank space, another they see smiling families and red JELL-O. The creature's strokes are nothing at all like that. Like his signing, they move at a turtle's pace, thoughtful. He knows that these strange, secret things his friends teach him are alien to his hands and to his mind. He trains both in this way, with methodical practice.
As his webbed fingers grow more in tune with the exotic applicant of the brush, his strokes grow in speed and frequency of pivoting. Elisa's hair is tied up in a ponytail, fortunately so, for her scaly lover spares no expense. The lines of color he trails on her travel the breadth of her back and shoulders, crossing her shoulder blades like a horizon one, two, three times. Back down her torso they go, marking down her spine in tight, geometric patterns. The squarish, curveless art of the creature reaches her waist. Now they are rounded, and he knots paint strokes across the wideness of her hips, and continues those lines diagonally across her bottom. They finally end at her ankles, after encasing her legs in revolving red spirals.
The creature dabs a little more scarlet on her shoulders, drags of paint like fingers running on the flesh there. She swears she can feel a drop or two dribble down her scars on the right side of her neck, like he was about to paint them and decided against it. Then he turns her around. Her creature's fingers fidget on her hips for a moment, as if he is trying to avoid smudging the red decorating Elisa's pale backside.
He finishes writing another of his colder patterns on the tops of her feet, the ones that are straight and polygonic. After this, the creature chirps and looks up at her. Eliza hides her mouth in her hands, and she can feel the paints on her back stretch as her skin does with the movement. Her blush is almost as crimson as the embellishment he left on her . He signs to her, the brush wedged between his clefted teeth to free his fingers.
Where did you learn this?
Again, his dinner plate eyes dodge around, this time between two areas of the floor he suddenly found particularly interesting.
No . . . learn. Come like . . . breathe. Like . . . walk. Do what . . . see . . . in head.
Elisa's hand meets his cheek, and he croaks as her fingers trail across the forest-hued carapace. She smirks as the eldritch nerves in his face glow with blue fire, and his eyes seem to double in size. Her lithe little fingers draw away from him and she signs.
Show me more of what you see.
He works Elisa diligently, and time is lost to her. Where seconds and minutes once dinged in her head, Elisa felt frozen constructs grace her body, saw red deeper than blood, heard croaks and coos and rumbles from her amphibian man. Before long, his great green head comes into her line of vision, and she feels his final marks swirl and curl like smoke upon her right cheek. He gestures down with a great wet hand, and Elisa looks down.
Her belly is engulfed in a great red hexagon, lines in tandem with it angling towards her sex. Her chest, like her legs, is encased in twisted spiral planes. Her whole torso is covered in graphlike maroon fishnets of paint, and her arms are flaming. Roiling brands of red waft from the marks on her shoulders down her arms, five blooded trails corkscrewing across her alabaster tissue until they reached her hands, where one ran down the middle of each of her fingers.
Elisa looks upon herself, upon her gilled god below her . . . and the thump thump thump returns. It nestles in that familiar alcove between her legs. But now, it is a drum of war. She imagines herself again, cocooned in blood, like a tribal goddess of battle worshipped by natives of a river half a world away. Worshipped and feared. She holds the whole earth in her hands, and within her contains the power and rage and savage might to burn the world clean.
Elisa is worshipped like him.
And she feels so powerful. So titillated.
Elisa drops to her knees, the light of the late afternoon turning her marks into scorching runes. She smiles again, more pronounced and free and stimulated. Now both her hands are on his face and she kisses him hard. Another clinking sound, as the brush falls from the creature's hands.
Why did you not mark my neck?
E-L-I-S-A, already . . . have mark . . . There, already like . . . The creature nods downwards, gesturing to himself.
Her heart almost breaks at his sincerity, but the thump thump thump of that warrior's beat fuses it together and keeps it subdued, drowned in the ancient and bloody ocean of power that lights her veins ablaze. Her hand go to his, and the sliding wet palms of her creature rest against her throat. Another rumble from him as she moves her face closer to his, their eyes locked on each other.
Now I mark you.
Elisa pushes him to the floor, and the spirit of a war deity consumes her as her teeth mark the creature up and down.