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Beneath the Waves

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  I bite my lip, pulling my jacket closer to my body to hold in any warmth I still have. My hair whips across my face with every gust of wind, damp from the rain and uncurling into tangles. I should go back now, just the walk out here was hard enough. I can’t feel my fingertips, gripping numbly at the zipper of my wet sweatshirt. I shuffle closer, peering over the edge of the cliff at the vicious water below. The storm has whipped it into a froth, white foam swirling at the top of the waves as they slam against the rockface under me.

  I spare a glance behind me, headlights glaring through the heavy mist of rain straight towards me. There’s still waiting; waiting to watch, or for me to turn tail and run away. When I’d taken their challenge, I was picturing a clear day. I take a deep breath. Would it be better to close my eyes? They jump this all the time, I know it won’t kill me or anything. But after I hit the water is another story. I shake my head. That won’t do me any good now, I’ve already decided.

  Two steps back, for a running start. I need to dive. I rub my hands together, curling my fingers to wake them up. Alright. The wind carries laughter from behind me, giving me the extra push I needed to rock forward and go. I forgot to dive, taking my short running start and launching myself off the cliff without much thought. In fact, I left all my plans back on solid ground. The wind whips through my hair and clothes, my arms struggling to grab at my legs and pull myself closer. I curl into myself, shutting my eyes tightly. I barely remember to take a breath before I hit the waves at full force.

  It’s beyond freeIng. I feel every ounce of warmth I had left leave my body, the cold rocking me to the core. I sink faster than I thought, leaving the violent waves at the surface and falling into calmer water. I uncurl, trying to crack my eyes but the harsh sting of salt forcing me to shut them again. I’m close enough to shore to touch bottom, stirring sand between my fingers and under my feet to kick off.

  I lurch forward, springing back again before I could get away. My ass hits bottom, and I can suddenly feel the weight of the water over me pressing down on my chest. Did I get stuck on something? What if I can’t get back up? In the middle of a storm- no one would be able to come out on a boat for days. I force my eyes open, the world blurred around me but clear enough to see something looped around my ankle. I pull on it, my movements feeling sluggish and harder than they would be above water.

  My fingers are numb, fumbling to grasp the plant that stuck itself to me and pull as hard as I can muster. Nothing. I tug harder, putting all my strength into it but still getting nothing back. Instead of exhausting myself, I try a different approach. I manage to slide off my shoe, the loop slipping off with it. I kick the other off, pushing to shoot upward through the water.

  I glide through the calm water, feeling my chest begin to tighten with the pressure of holding my breath for so long. High school choir can only get me so far, and I’ll need to let it out soon. I hit the cold, choppy water closer to the surface; throwing my body to the side and dragging me along the current like a ragdoll. I’m not strong enough to swim against it, at the mercy of the waves until I get close enough to break. The water tosses me up with the peak of a wave, giving me just enough time to gasp in a new breath before I’m pulled under again.

  I flail my arms now, clawing towards the surface of the water desperately. Despite the fresh air, my arms are starting to grow heavy with exhaustion. I’ve been swimming too hard for too long, I can’t do much more. But if I could just… The wind must have changed, the water shifting and pushing me down further from the surface. I’m out of the worst of the current, but it’s too strong now to get back in; pushing me away when I try. I’m starting to feel lightheaded, struggling to move the way I want.

  My body won’t obey, strokes slowing to a weak shove to the water around me until I can’t bring myself to lift my arms again; letting them drift at my sides. I muster up the strength for one more kick, hoping that id I can just get up a little further the water will do the work for me.

  I hit the rough current head on, the swirling water knocking me back harshly and ripping the breath from my lungs. I watch the bubbles disappear above me, my body sinking slowly; dropping further and further from the waves above. I turn my head, even that hard to do, looking out into the ocean around me. As if something there would be able to answer my prayers.

  Something moves in the corner of my vision, but it’s too far now to see. My whole body is jostled when I hit the sand, the edges of my vision now starting to go fuzzy. I swear, I saw… It comes again, brilliant blue against the dark water; almost shining. I try to move, making black bleed into my line of sight with the strain.

  It sweeps closer to me, revealing two long fins. The tail of the thing arcs over me, moving out of my vision with one flick. It was so fast, but I could’ve sworn it was almost.. Human. But that can’t be right. I’m seeing things already, darkness creeping from the edges of my surroundings to start closing in completely. Something white crosses in front of me. Am I dying already? It moves again, the glittering blue scales returning and twisting to reveal a partly human figure in front of me, pale eyes piercing mine intently. Everything goes dark.

 

  My chest still chest still aches when I wake up, my skin so cold it feels like I’m on fire. I try to open my eyes, but it’s too bright. I cough, my whole body heaving and twisting as water passes my lips. I can feel hands on me now, rubbing my back and holding me still on my side. They’re no warmer than I am, just the pressure against me telling me they’re there at all.

  I try to open my eyes again, prying my lids apart when it feels like I can finally gasp in air again. It’s bright, burning my eyes, but I force them to stay open; adjusting to the light slowly. I’m still soaking wet, my clothes laying heavily on my skin. Rain falls on my face when I look up, clouds still coating the sky above me. I turn, falling onto my back and trapping the hand there beneath me.

  The owner of said hand is leaning over me, hair falling into his face and dripping water onto my skin. He’s pale, but his skin is speckled with… something. Blue dots across some of his face, shining even in the little light of the storm. Anything I could’ve said dies in my throat. Fins flare up on the sides of his throat, surrounded by the glittering blue scales I’d seen before.

  I thrash, struggling to move my body but forcing myself up halfway to see the rest of who saved me. A long tail stretches from his midsection, bluer than the sky on a clear day, stretching into the water that hides the rest of him.

  He says something, but I can’t hear what it was exactly. He eases me back down, leaning over me once again and touching my forehead. My eyelids feel heavy again, struggling to stay open until I can’t fight it anymore. The last thing I see are his eyes, powder blue and completely calm. My eyes close, and my body relaxes.

Chapter Text

  I was only in the hospital for about a day and a half, the storm long gone when I finally get back out into the sun. I don’t know how, but I still feel soaked to the bone now; days after I’ve so much as touched water outside a glass. I’ve tried, but I can’t even take a shower. As soon as I hear the rush of the water, it’s like I go into a panic. I can’t move, I can’t speak, I can’t turn it off again. I just stand there and tremble

  But there’s something… else. In the midst of a full blown anxiety attack is the only time I can see it.. Him again clearly. Leaning over me, eyes wide with curiosity and lips parted; like he was ready to say something but didn’t know what. And he was there . But I;m the only one that saw him. By the time I got picked up, there wasn’t a trace of him.

  I take a deep breath and turn the key already slotted into its place, the car roaring to life around me. It’s been a week, and I haven’t been out of my parents sight until now. The drive is three hours with no traffic but I’m not letting myself get out of this. I sat in the back of a van the last time, huddled up against the side with no seatbelt, but now I can see the coastline as I drive.

  I try to get what I want straight, but it was barely worth all the effort. Hours pass with the wind streaming in through the windows, stilling with the squeal of my breaks. I stop between the peak of the cliff and the slope to the beach. What am I really doing here? Do I want to really prove myself and dive into the water again? Or am I here for him, who might not even be real.

  I hike the rest of the way up and stare down at the water, in the same spot I’d been only a week earlier. The water is calm now, lapping lazily at the rockface and dragging along the beach just beyond. It’s clear and blue, not enough to see below the surface, but just right to sparkle under the sunlight. No one else is here now, the air up here stagnant with no breeze to stir the salty smell around me. This would be for me. I take a step back then another, turning to walk away from the ledge but just catching..

  A splash? I’d already missed the source when I get back to the edge, but then I see it again. The long tail, sparkling with brilliant blue in the now retreating sun. It’s barely a glint, splashing back into the water in an instant, but it’s him. I pull my shirt up over my head, throwing it to the ground and following it with my shorts, shoes, and socks. I roll my neck, backing away from the cliff and taking the running start again.

  This time I remember to dive, arching my back and pulling my ankles together; hitting the water hands first dolphin style and cutting straight through the still water. I force my eyes open as soon as I’m under, looking around frantically. Everything is still, even the beams of sunlight that reach through the water have no sway. I just saw him, fully lucid and not drowning, he has to be here. I swim back up to refill my lungs, straining to see even the hint of a ripple in the distance.

  I try looking on the surface, gliding easily through the small waves but.. Now that I’m here, I can really find where I am. This is where I came down before. The water around me is beyond calm but my mind’s eye flashes back to before; the white tipped waves pulling me in and tossing me around like a leaf. It was crushing, it was- my legs falter, dropping me under and sending me into a flailing panic.

  I take a deep breath in of water, kicking and splashing and only stirring up the water around me.

  I lock up, freezing when something touches my leg and gives me a boost back upwards; my head coming back up into the open air. A ripple pushes up from beneath the water next to me, but it’s all I can do to keep myself upright while I cough; hacking up the water I’d taken in loudly.

  Before I can throw myself under again another ripple catches my eye, then another after it. I push myself, bringing one shaking arm up after the other in wide but weak strokes after it. I follow as closely as I can until they stop, my arm hitting sand under the water. He led me.. Back to shore? I scramble out of the water, knees shaking under me as I take steps away from the water.

  My hair drips into my face, plastered to the sides of my head but still managing to get me more wet than I already am. I push it away, my eyes still out on the gentle waves rolling in; pulling the sand back over my footprints. Hiding evidence of me, just like it’s hiding what I’m looking for. I’m tempted to call out, but save my still heaving chest the effort.

  I see something, just barely, skimming across the surface of the water further down the beach. There’s a dead end further that way, the rocks coming out over the beach and blocking the water into the cove. I rush down the beach, falling onto my hands and pushing back up to continue running across the sand. The rocks are taller than I am, starting on a flat slope and spiking up to sharp points overhead.

  The surface is hard on my feet, but I creep across the ledge carefully. The water bubbles at my side, splashing without any waves. I see his wrists first, speckled with scales that condense and surround the fins jutting out of his forearms; the delicate webbing so pale I could almost see through it. And his hair is as fair and blonde as I remembered, falling from his head over his shoulders in golden strands, just covering the webbing of his ear fins and the slits cut across his neck.

  His chest is bare and flat, with twin slits flat against his rib cage on either side, rounding just so at his stomach where the water around him laps against his skin. I breathe out a sharp sigh, the air snatched from my lungs by how stunning the creature in front of me is. He bites his lip, the teeth hidden in his mouth each coming to a razor sharp point that doesn’t even begin to break skin. He waves me on, dipping just beneath the water again and flipping his tailfin up out of the water.

  I almost can’t keep myself from running, shuffling across the rock as quickly as I can without slipping. I come to the end, where the rockface rounds a corner before dipping back down into the water. He pulls himself up on the slope, dragging his tail out of the water for me to see. The sun is setting now, but the light still reflects brilliantly from his scales. I hesitate before approaching him, swallowing thickly and lowering myself to sit beside him when I do get there.

  The hair on his body is thick, but just as pale as the locks on his head. I just can’t help myself, fingers trembling as I reach out to touch a patch of his scales and running my fingertips carefully across them. They’re slick and hard, but not rough to the touch. His skin is cold, but he doesn’t seem bothered by the temperature.

  He leans towards me, his own hand lifting steadily to touch my; cool fingers dragging delicately across the thick scars on my chest. He pulls away, rubbing his fingers together as he looks at me; surprised by something.

  I let my eyes finally be drawn to his tail, stretched across the rockface and dipping into the water. I’m tempted to touch, but can’t bring myself to be that shameless. The last light in the sky sparkles off him, brighter than the twilight itself. I can see his throat work, the slits that must be gills flaring on his neck as he looks at me; lips parted in speechlessness. And we stay like that, my skin blushing with cold as the sun sets behind us; the darkness barely lasting a moment before something enchanting happens before my eyes.

  He lights up, dots of rich blue light dusted across his face and sweeping down his arms. The stretches of webbing now illuminated brightly, even shining from beneath the water at the end of his tail.

   “..’re beautiful.” I can barely muster a whisper, breathing out the words so softly I wasn’t sure he heard. But then he smiled, the sweet expression pulling me back to his eyes; lit up palely in the night and casting light onto me.

   “I prefer Evan.” he leans closer to speak, voice breathy and quiet as mine had been. My heart thuds against my chest, my mouth going dry as the gap between us shortens. I can see almost a full row of his sharp fangs behind his lips. I can’t help but stare, though the soft pink skin catches my attention more. I lean closer before I can think about it, eyes half lidded as I tilt my chin. We’re a breath apart now.

   “Thank you.”